The International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) says it is still ready to implement poverty alleviation programmes in the mid- and far-western hills, the very areas hit hardest by the Maoist insurgency. That is, if the government gives the go-ahead. "Our plan to work there has not been derailed, but delayed," Phrang Roy, IFAD director for the Asia Pacific region, told us. "We felt that we needed better knowledge about the socio-economic situation before moving in. We've told the government we're willing to work in that area." Roy was referring to a possible $8-10 million loan to support poverty reduction programmes being considered by his organisation for several years now.
The UN agency also says it is ready to re-allocate funds from an existing project to assist in the rehabilitation of kamaiyas, who've been left homeless since the government announced their freedom from bondage on 17 July (see Nepali Times, # 7). The $8.8 million poverty alleviation project in the western Tarai has been going on since 1997 and Roy told us it could be refocused to include kamaiyas. But it has to be proposed by the government first. IFAD officials recently visited the districts where the beleagured kamiya families have been living to assess the situation.
"We faced a similar situation when India abolished bonded labour in the 1970s. We learnt then that going in fast and creating employment guarantees help," says Roy, adding that experience there had shown that working with the poor is possible anywhere. He himself come from India's northeast where the IFAD has been working in insurgency-hit districts. IFAD is a small UN organisation with three major voting blocs-the oil producing, industrial and developing countries (its initial funding came from OPEC's petrodollars, hence the group's voting power). It doesn't have a large budget and is generally involved in small grassroots projects that provide support directly to the poor. It was also among the first international donors that came in and helped kick-start some of Nepal's better-known poverty reduction programmes like Small Farmer Development and Production Credit for Rural Women (PCRW).
"The PCRW was a star project in the sub-region because it helped us recognise women as change agents, while the small farmer programme was the first that introduced the concept that the poor were bankable," says Roy.
IFAD has so far spent over $90 million in Nepal, mainly in projects implemented by the government. Among them is the Hill Leasehold Forestry Project, which seeks to help people that have been bypassed by the successful community forestry movement. It also helps women without land make a living by protecting degraded public land which is obtained on lease from the government. The project has already organised 1500 groups, reaching 15,000 families though that is still far short of its initial target of 20,000-24,000.
Though the amount it plans to spend in the western hills is not much, other partners are likely to follow once it gets a foothold. "We've taken slightly long than usual because we found that we needed deeper understanding of the socio-economic processes there. We hope that pro-poor economic growth may eventually also help to broker peace," says Roy. "In Northeast India, we have been pleasantly surprised at the way development has taken place despite the insurgency. We are also find that if women are given a role, they can also become peacemakers."